East German Protestants remember their day of liberation

By Stephen Brown
May 9, 2009

A regional Protestant church in former East Germany has launched a special Internet blog to mark the 20th anniversary of rigged elections in May 1989 that led to protests which helped end 40 years of communist rule.

"Remembering our electoral behaviour 20 years ago hopefully will help us to value the worth of free and secret elections," states the Web site of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany (EKMD). It asks Web visitors to set down their memories and views about the local elections held on 7 May 1989.

During communist rule in East Germany, voters were presented with a single list of candidates for elections. Although there were booths to allow privacy to strike out names, people were encouraged simply to put the ballot paper straight into the urn rather than to stand out as potential dissidents.

In 1989, for the first time, citizens' rights groups launched appeals for people to use the voting booths and organized independent observers to attend the count that helped to reveal the scale of electoral fraud, sparking widespread protest demonstrations.

The EKMD blog is part of its "Holy Disorder" campaign, which seeks to recall the events of 1989 and mobilise church members to get involved in politics as Germany faces a general election in 2009.

Writing on the blog, EKMD Bishop Christoph Kähler, then a theology professor in Leipzig, described the elections in 1989 as being like nothing he had experienced before. At previous elections he had always stood out by demonstratively using the voting booth rather than simply folding the ballot paper and putting it into the urn. This time, however, there was a queue of people waiting in line to make use of the booths.

In the evening, his wife had been one of the observers at the count who tried to keep an independent tally of the results. "The almost 100 per cent approval that appeared in the newspapers the next day was so obviously fraudulent that it brought the political dissatisfaction with this system of lies to a new high point," wrote Kähler.

In East Berlin, demonstrators would gather on the 7th of every month on the Alexanderplatz under the city's imposing television tower to protest at electoral fraud. In East Germany's second city of Leipzig, anger at the elections led to weekly demonstrations after peace prayers that culminated in tens of thousands taking to the streets in October 1989.

A month later, in November 1989, the Berlin Wall was breached, followed by German unification the following year.

Still, one contributor to the blog expressed dissatisfaction with Western democracy, saying there were no differences between the political parties. The visitor, "Simnie", said they had taken part in East German elections by approving the official list of candidates. Now, in unified Germany, they are boycotting elections to protest at the German army being sent abroad.

See the EKMD elections blog (in German) here: http://blog.ekmd.de/abd9b968381d11deaccd6d5f3cc651d251d2.html

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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